By Bill Beard
“My fate was sealed!” So said Rockford native Paul Castree, backstage after the Broadway-in-Chicago performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and in which he plays Simeon, one of Joseph’s brothers. He was answering my question about how he first found himself considering a career in acting. He remembered clearly having gone to see his two older brothers whenever they were performing in their high school shows, and being completely mesmerized by the whole experience. “I just knew absolutely that I must be on that stage!”
His path would take him through his own busy high school theater years at Boylan Catholic High School, where he worked with other Boylan students who have become well-known theater successes in New York and beyond, in stage and film and TV.
“What are your best memories of high school in Rockford?” I asked.
“I loved doing Will Parker in Oklahoma! my senior year”, he remembered. “But even before that, I was in a great production of Guys and Dolls at Boylan, directed by Rod MacDonald and choreographed by Chuck Hoenes. What a preview of the future that was: the cast included Jody Benson, Joe Mantella, Marin Mazie and myself, and the pit orchestra was conducted by Robert Greenblatt” (currently serving as the chairman of NBC Entertainment).
Paul shows a career résumé that is very impressive as well. He has been successfully employed as a Broadway actor for nearly 20 years. He did his undergraduate work in theater and music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he performed with his friend, former Miss Rockford, Jenine Cannell.
After college, in summer 1990, at home in Rockford and looking for work, he received a phone call from a friend in New York City, suggesting he come to the city for an “open audition” for a new revival of Bye Bye Birdie, to star Tommie Tune. He scraped together enough for airfare, flew in, and at 8 a.m. the next morning, auditioned for the show. They asked him to hang around, and by the evening, he had signed a contract to go on tour with the show in the featured role of Harvey Johnson; they had been looking for a real “Midwestern” look; and with his red hair and looking like Opie Taylor himself, he was a natural. He has been employed steadily ever since.
Actually, his first “on Broadway” show was the 1994 revival of Grease; and since then, he has appeared in the original casts, and therefore done the original cast albums, of nearly a dozen other shows, including Footloose (1998), Saturday Night Fever (1999), All Shook Up (2005), High Fidelity (2006), Young Frankenstein (2007) and 9 to 5 (2009). That sort of record puts him right up there with the success stories of his fellow Boylan celebs.
And now, he is featured in the Broadway-in-Chicago current hit at the Cadillac Palace, Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat, until March 30. He still has his red hair, and a nice healthy red beard and mustache as well. He still credits much of his career luck to his red hair.
Personally, I can tell you it was much more than his red hair. Even after spending only a short time with Paul Castree, I can tell you this is one of those really “nice” people; and that’s exactly what everyone told me. People here in town, Kathy Stevens, Jim Crow, Gordon Odegard. And after the show last week in Chicago, when I chatted backstage with some of his fellow actors, same comments: “He’s a great guy!” His co-star, leading man Ace Young, wanted to be quoted precisely: “I’ve been constantly impressed with Paul’s terrific comedic timing and his musical ability.” One of the youngest members of the Ensemble, Brandon Husdon, who plays Benjamin, said: “Paul has really been an inspiration to me. He’s the nicest guy I’ve met anywhere in theater.”
Isn’t it great to find out that sometimes it’s really true: “Good guys do succeed.”
From the March 26-April 1, 2014, issue